Coronavirus Chicago: Some OEMC workers question essential status, say they lack masks and gloves

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Some OEMC workers are questioning their designation as essential workers since the traffic they typically regulate has disappeared since Illinois' stay-at-home order went into effect.

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The familiar figures wearing yellow vests usually stand in busy intersections to direct traffic, and you can still see them on the streets, but without any traffic to direct.

"We're working traffic," said one OEMC employee, who asked to remain anonymous since they are not permitted to speak to media. "And there is no traffic."

The hourly workers generally make $20 an hour to keep traffic moving through busy intersections, but those intersections are non-existent during the stay-at-home order. Many of the aides are now being used to keep people away from the lakefront. And several of the aides questioned whether they should be considered essential employees.

"They're saying stay at home, so why not stay at home? We're not equipped to be out there," the aide said.

Several other OEMC aides that ABC7 Eyewitness News approached had similar concerns. They said the city has failed to provide any safety equipment, including masks and gloves, and has discouraged them from wearing their own. OEMC leaders did not respond to ABC7 Eyewitness News' questions.

"They've enlightened us that our employees are so critical to making sure our city is safe, so they need to make sure we mitigate the risk as much as possible," said Jeffrey Howard of SEIU Local 73.

Union leaders say they are in the middle of contract negotiations and cannot provide details, but If the city considers them essential workers at this point they ought to be paid like it.
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